Empathy vs. Sympathy

I linked to this blog post in my previous post but I’m linking again because I think it’s really good and important.  There is a BIG BIG difference between empathy and sympathy.  I’ve gotten a whole of a lot of sympathy, not much empathy.  Everyone, everyone felt super-duper bad for me when this happened – that’s sympathy.  Feeling bad for someone else is sympathy.  Only a couple of people in my life empathized with me.  Fellow stroke survivors can automatically empathize because they know the absolute HELL that I’ve been through.  My family and friends do not.  The point of being empathetic is trying to determine what someone else is feeling and going through and trying to understand that and be sensitive to it.  You never, ever will completely understand it unless you’ve experienced it but you better TRY to understand.  Not many people were very empathetic with me.

Categories: Health, Recovery, Stroke stuff

Tags: , ,

56 replies

  1. To empathize you have to walk a mile in their moccasins.

  2. being an Empath is hard work. our society tries to wring it out of us by saying we’re “too sensitive.” Seriously, my father used to try to get me to stop crying by saying, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Please don’t be so hard on people who cannot fathom how to empathize with us – looking at us and thinking, “poor thing,” might be the best they can do.

  3. Some tried to empathize by commenting about the time they sprained their ankle and had to use a cane for a week. I was still a nice person back then and didn’t comment back.

  4. I suppose I could have twisted her arm around and broken it; then she’d be a bit closer to knowing. Unlike you and Dean, I did NOT used to be nice. I’m nice NOW, but it came to me post-stroke.

  5. Can you tell hospice is here? I posted and even posted replies 🙂

    • Jo, that’s great. You need some time off. I have no idea what your life must be like to be a stroke survivor AND caregiver. sometimes, despite my lovely life, I want respite from this disability. It is relentless.

  6. The whole empathy thing is tough for me. My experiences with stroke are so different from the mainstream stroke community’s that I sometimes come off as being even less empathetic than a non-stroke person! That hasn’t been good for my hospital volunteer work. So, in my case, being in a stroke victim’s shoes hasn’t helped. I wish you could pick up a half-gallon of empathy at Target or something.

    • THAT would be awesome! I would buy 100 gallons and always give them out as my presents to people.

      • LOVE the idea of buying empathy. one limitation I see, though is that people who can’t empathize generally think they CAN. My former boss (15 years) frequently declared that I would be surprised at how well he understood what I was going through. he was so convincing that I suspected that maybe his beloved mother (who died before I met him) had survived a stroke.After reading my blog entry called “failure” he admitted that he hadn’t had any idea what I’d gone through, and that if he’d implied it, he was sorry. what I learned was that people are so convinced that they understand based on some silly little thing that they entice us into thinking they might understand us.

        Scott, I find it hard to believe you don’t have empathy for those who work hard to recover from stroke. I imagine your guilt as gallon jugs of empathy from Target you heft in a backpack along with you as you walk your daily 10 miles.

        • Oh, I cherish and empathize with all those who fight courageously against stroke. I can’t believe I’ve seen as much optimism and spirit as I have,and is exactly the reason I volunteer. And I cringe in empathy at those souls less fortunate who suffer with anxiety, fear, and depression. Okay, here’s where my problem is. A few of our patients have been “macho”-type guys who had fallen completely apart and couldn’t pull themselves together. I looked at their wives, and that’s who I empathized with. They were basically alone in the world, they were scared out of their minds and they had no idea what to do next, and all because Mr.Tough Guy over there couldn’t stop crying long enough to support his wife one teeny little bit. It made me sick at the time. Anyway, I totally agree with my social worker boss who says I shouldn’t be so judgmental about this and to get over my problem. She’s right, of course. There’s no room for prejudice in a rehab ward, or anywhere else, for that matter.

  7. I need two gallons then (at least).

  8. Amy, I have to say that when the comments on your blog wander off-target, they are very entertaining, but when they stay on-target, like this discussion, they are much more enlightening – and that’s what I’m looking for online. in real-time life, I hear platitudes, encouragement and compliments; those are great, but that’s not what I want. i want understanding. Period.

    and not all stroke survivors can provide each other with understanding:

    Amy, I will NEVER understand what it’s like to be struck BEFORE establishing my beloved family.

    Jo, I will never understand what it’s like to be a stroke survivor AND caregiver.

    Elizabeth, caring for your young son while surviving a stroke is un fathomable to me.

    Julie Phillips, appreciating your stroke because it revealed your ovarian cancer is beyond the scope of my abilities.

    and I am an empathetic person. Good luck with those normals who just don’t get it.

    • Right on with this comment. I think mutual understanding is at the root core of everything here, and I see absolutely nowhere else you can get it like this. Because of that, seriously, this may well be the most important place in all of the stroke community.

    • Barb,
      I think I can speak for all you mentioned. If not, they will speak up. We do it BECAUSE we have to.

      I think everyone looks at everyone else’s problems and don’t understand how they do it. I’ve heard it from others for ten years now when others look at what we’ve been through and are still going through. The fact is for us it’s life and we’re trying to muddle through to have the best life possible. In some ways, I too can look at certain families and wonder the same thing.
      Amy- I can’t imagine being so young and having a stroke.
      Barb- I can’t imagine the strength you possess to do all that you’ve accomplished in 4 short years.
      Elizabeth- While I may be a caregiver to my husband and stroke survivor, you got hit with a double whammy.

      And all he rest of you with your stories fall into that category…even Dean.

      • Well at least I’m an afterthought. Amy I love your place being the cool hangout it is. I can’t do my comments elsewhere with friends because I come off as too intense. It doesn’t help that “I am smarter than the average bear!” Sorry Amy, that quote is way before your time

      • Yep, we do what we do because we HAVE to do it. In my case, being a mom was something I always wanted, and I’m soo thankful I got the chance. I do what I do because I LOVE to do it. My heart pushed me from the moment of my dx. I wanted to be the best mom I could be and I was worried that the ticking time bomb in my head was going to rob me of my dreams. I honestly believe my situation forced me to recover. There was no other option.There was no one to take care of me, I had a baby to take care of and I wanted to take care of him more than anything.

  9. and he said, “average” oddly, with 3 syllables: A (short A) – VER – AGE (sounds like IJ), so there was a particular rhythm to the whole phrase.

  10. This is what Barb and I laughed at Saturday mornings.
    Yogi Bear Home Sweet Jellystone

  11. I have a blog that I write about my stroke journey too. By the time I was 23, I had suffered from two strokes, leaving my right side numb and my hand and arm disabled. You may find my story inspiring.


  12. Heh. Because of Yogi, I have to pronounce it “pick-a-nick basket!”

    Anyway…. Here’ a video about empathy (<3 mins) which is amusing, and — I think — offers good guidance:

    I know how you guys feel.


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